Osteoporosis occurs when the body breaks down more bone tissue than it replaces, causing the bones to lose density and become weak. Because everyone loses bone mass with age, it's good to know the risk factors for osteoporosis and what you can do to slow the progression of the disease.
Risk factors for osteoporosis
Many things can cause osteoporosis. Some risk factors include:
- Gender. Osteoporosis is more common in women than in men.
- Age. People over the age of 50 are at the greatest risk.
- Race. Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
- Family history. People with parents or siblings who have osteoporosis are at an increased risk, especially if the family member experienced a hip fracture.
- Poor nutrition. People who don't get enough calcium or are underweight are at an increased risk.
- Medical conditions. Many medical conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism, breast cancer and prostate cancer, can cause osteoporosis.
- Medicines and steroids. Long-term use of some medicines and steroids can cause osteoporosis.
- Unhealthy lifestyle choices. Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day, smoking and not getting enough exercise increases the risk of osteoporosis.
How to prevent osteoporosis
Most people's bone mass begins to slowly decline in their 30s. Still, there are things you can do to improve the health of your bones and slow the progression of osteoporosis:
- Eat calcium-rich foods. Some good sources of calcium include dairy products, broccoli, kale, and fortified cereals and juices.
- Go outside. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Your body makes vitamin D through sunlight exposure. You can also get it through fortified cereals and dairy products.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise strengthens bones and slows bone loss. Weight-bearing exercises like jogging, walking and weight lifting are good choices.
- Stop smoking. Ask your doctor about a smoking cessation program, which can help you quit for good.
- Limit alcohol. Cut your alcohol consumption to less than two drinks per day.
When to get a bone density test
A bone density test estimates your bone mass and chance of breaking a bone. Doctors recommend that all women age 65 and older and all men age 70 and older undergo a bone density test. How often you need the test depends on your age and the results of your last test.
Your doctor may recommend a bone density test at an earlier age if you have certain osteoporosis risk factors or show signs or symptoms of osteoporosis such as easily breaking a bone or height loss.
Learn more about osteoporosis.